Take care when charging your electric vehicle

Do you recall all the safety rules you were taught about refueling when you first learned to drive: Shut off the engine; don’t smoke; don’t leave the pump unattended; don’t overfill?

If you are among the growing number of drivers sliding in behind the wheel of an electric vehicle, different “refueling” considerations apply. 

The most basic electrical safety lesson is that electricity and water don’t mix. However, EVs and their charging stations are designed to handle whatever Mother Nature throws your way, be it dust or rain. However, there are precautions to think about when charging an EV whether you are in your garage or at a public charging station. 

“You might not have to worry about spilling gasoline or setting off an explosion at the pump,” said John Gasstrom, CEO at Indiana Electric Cooperatives. “But, just as when you use anything electric, there are a few things to keep in mind.”

Using a level 1 charger plugged into your garage’s 120-volt/15-amp outlet is the easiest way to charge your vehicle, though it is the slowest. Always use the charger provided by the vehicle’s manufacturer. Before you plug into any electrical outlet, have a qualified electrician inspect and verify the electrical system (outlet, wiring, junctions and protection devices) for heavy duty service according to your vehicle’s owner’s manual. 

Check the electrical outlet and plug while charging and discontinue use if the electrical outlet or plug is hot, then have the electrical outlet serviced by a qualified electrician.

In addition, when charging always follow the manufacturer’s guidelines. Some of the most common are:

  • Do not use extension cords, multi-outlet power strips, surge protection strips or similar devices.
  • Do not use an electrical outlet that is worn or damaged, or one that will not hold the plug firmly in place.
  • Do not use an electrical outlet that is on a circuit with other electrical loads.

The level 2 electric vehicle equipment utilizes 240 volts and 20 to 40 amps. These will recharge the car more quickly. You will probably need to have a qualified electrician install the charger and a separate service and plug at your home, similar to the 240 service for an electric range, water heater or clothes dryer.

Before using a public charger, always inspect it first to make sure it doesn’t appear damaged. EV charging stations are designed so the cable remains de-energized until it’s connected to the port on the vehicle. Once connected, the vehicle starts communication with the device, conducting measurements to determine everything is safe and working properly, and only then will it begin the flow of energy. 

Electric vehicle charging in the rain

Feeling apprehensive about charging your electric vehicle in the rain?

Don’t be: EVs are engineered to withstand water intrusion and the charger won’t let electricity flow till the car says it’s safe.

Nissan’s Leaf, for example, has an Ingress Protection (or IP) rating of 67. The IP rating is applied to a wide variety of items we use daily. The first number, ranging from 1-6, rates the item’s ability to keep out dust and dirt with 6 being the best. The second, ranging from 1-8, rates protection against liquids. The highest number, 8, is reserved for equipment made to be submerged. 

So, the Leaf’s IP 67 rating more than exceeds anything you’d encounter when plugging your EV into a charging station in the rain.

Electric vehicle charging 101

Switching over to an electric vehicle allows you to “fill ’er up” with kilowatts at a fraction of the cost of gasoline. But just as fuels come as gas, diesel or E85, or in different octanes, electric vehicles have three general types of chargers. GoElectricDrive.com, which promotes EV awareness, has outlined the three commonly used chargers.

Level 1: Charger uses a standard 120-volt outlet. All drivers can charge their EV at level 1 at home and it requires no extra equipment or installation. On average, a full charging time is about 8 hours — but it varies by model. Consult the automaker’s website for more information.

Level 2: Charger uses a 240-volt outlet. Homeowners may decide to install a charging station — also known as electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) — in their home. This requires professional installation of an outlet type commonly used by large appliances like electric ranges and dryers. There are also many level 2 chargers across the United States in public areas. On average, full charging time varies from 2 to 6 hours. 

Level 3: These “DC Fast Charge” networks provide about 80 percent of a vehicle’s potential battery power in about 15 minutes. They are not currently available for home installation.